The scene may be wilting in the summer heat but a couple of gallery shows and the Keane concert keep the culture crowd breathing.
Keaning cries are coming to Dubai
There are a couple of ready reckoners that let you guess at the character of a rock band without having to listen to them. The first is that the coolness of their name will be directly proportional to the abrasiveness of their output. Thus the Stones beat the Beatles and are decimated by the Dead Kennedys, who in turn cower before the might of Wolf Eyes. There are exceptions, as you might expect: The Melvins ought to trade in breezy surf rock but in fact sound like a swarm of bees pouring into your ear canal. Poison should have made the blackest of black metal, but actually came on like a less professional version of Bon Jovi. These are outliers, however. The trend is clear. For confirmation, just look down the roster of the American Tapes label: Beast People, Universal Indians, Have You Seen the Shining? - these names are, admit it, pretty cool. Now check out the music. Yeesh.
The second, rather rougher rule of thumb, is that the more homely-looking a band's male lead vocalist happens to be, the more tortured they will attempt to appear. Pete Doherty is a gangling Bratz doll of a man: no surprise that he tries to pass himself off as a sort of gut-shot poète maudit. On a physiognomic level, Nick Cave used to look like a chinless software developer. Yet through sheer force of will has sold himself as the shamanic lightning rod of madness and murder we all so admire, and now he sort of resembles one, too.
The converse isn't necessarily the case, of course: Henry Rollins has always looked and sounded like the Incredible Hulk, while Paul McCartney rocks like a duvet and might as well be the corporate mascot of Pilsbury Dough. Still, the pattern is there. Keane, who play in Dubai this week, confirm the theory. Their name is, to put the case mildly, not cool. Derived from the name of a family friend and early benefactor, it evokes a combination of unctuous eagerness and mid-Nineties Manchester United. Not cool at all. Consequently, Keane do tunes. At the same time, their singer Tom Chaplin has perhaps the most rubicund face in all pop history. He looks like one of the Famous Five levered into skinny jeans. His lyrical persona is, as the rule predicts, all angst and bluster: one minute he's drowning in a river, the next he's crawling out of wreckage or treading the only road he knows, all the time wearing a constipated frown. Grim struggle? Lofty moral purpose? Apple cheeks? Check. He's the Frodo of wimp rock.
All of which makes any slight tweak in the Keane formula, such as the one displayed on their most recent album, more striking. After all, at one point they seemed as representative of that crop of droopy-drawers, post-Radiohead mope rockers as any of their peers - Coldplay, or Athlete, or (eek) Starsailor. What's more, as the rigorous science of my preceding paragraphs confirms, they are hardly a band to buck a trend. And yet, on Perfect Symmetry, they have managed to go a bit pop. They started using funny synth sounds and up-tempo drum parts. Chaplin even attempts some Once in a Lifetime-style speak-singing on the album opener Spiralling. There's still angst, but it's got an art-pop spring in its step. And so we have a small paradox. Same same but different.
A couple of art shows merit a mention before the final descent into the yawning vacuum of summer. There's a group exhibition, Beam, organised by Fatima al Hashemi at the Sheraton in Abu Dhabi. Perhaps the best-known of the featured up-and-coming artists is Wasel Safwan, recently seen at the Emirati Expressions show at the Emirates Palace. The new exhibition runs until July 26.
Meanwhile, there's a display of young Kuwaiti talent at Dubai's Opera Gallery. The preview material suggests there's a wealth of striking work here. Catch it before July 11. * Ed Lake